The future is rural! Cities like Mexico City that are still chasing the ‘mega-city’ model are suffering. High inequality, pollution and housing bubbles make them precarious places to live. We’re seeing more progressive administrations looking for ways to ‘ruralise’ the urban realm with small scale, 15 minute city principles, independent neighbourhood shops and urban farming.
The 20th Century was a story of mass urbanisation, but is the tide beginning to turn? Places like Sweden and Switzerland are seeing population growth in the countryside, with people unshackled from the city commute and able to make the most of the dramatic rural landscapes and healthy lifestyles that comes with them.
Here at The Place Bureau, we’re working with the people of Huntingdonshire, a rural district near Cambridge, to imagine a bold future. It’s a place where the connection to the land poses huge opportunities for sustainability, self-sufficiency, innovation and slow tourism.
Marie Joja, an architect in Brno, talked about how temporary interventions can be a ‘catalyst’ for future use – we want to convince people to renovate old buildings rather than demolishing and rebuilding. They are an opportunity to revive the story of a building.
Valeria Lorenzelli of EuroMilano Spa talked about how short term interventions on new development sites help to create a sense of place and community before the place is built. Investors are happy to finance these creative projects as they reduce the risk attached to their developments – it’s better to build homes in a place that is already a great place to visit.
Martin O’Donoghugh, a ‘play strategist’ from Cork (who definitely had the best job title at the conference!) says that creating temporary ‘play streets’ by closing roads in the local neighbourhood, was a gateway to fully pedestrianising the roads. Once people saw how the road could be made ‘open’ to people (as opposed to ‘closed’ for cars), they were happy to keep it that way!
Here at The Place Bureau – we’ve been considering the impact of the current economic crisis, and looking at how creative ‘meanwhile’ projects can maintain a sense of place and welcome on sites where building projects have stalled.
Renet Korthals Altes, an architect at Space for Play has three key rules for designing play spaces: Co-design with kids, co-build with kids and co-maintain with kids. These little ‘clients’ really are the experts! Adam Roigart, a Landscape Architect who works with young people, says that they love the physicality of digging holes, chopping things and burning stuff – don’t be afraid and let them get involved with designing our spaces.
Paivi Raivio says that our whole cities need to be more playful and we shouldn’t limit play to designated playgrounds. What if our usual street infrastructure like benches and pavements invited more active and creative use?
Don’t forget about adults – play is important at every age! Adam Roitgart also talked about a hop farm they built on a disused parking lot – a place to hang out, do some farming and drink a beer in the pop up pub! Grown-ups can use play to better understand our cities as Raphael Mak showed us with his urban orienteering experiments.
At the Place Bureau we’ve been working with Coopers Cross in Dublin on a cultural strategy that has identified a place with a rich history of ground-up creativity, performance and outspokenness. Our collaboration with The Decorators to build play infrastructure for the park here allowed us to channel these concepts into a space that goes beyond swings and slides – encouraging kids to be creative and daring.
The 15 minute city has been adopted as best practice, says Carlos Moreno, who coined the concept – it’s a term we all know and work towards, but Covid and the energy crisis has made it more inevitable. We simply can’t continue to move around in the same way we used to.
In Paris, we heard from Marion Waller about how locals were asked to pitch ideas – what would they do with 10m2 outside of their front door? School streets have now been pedestrianised across the city, reclaiming space from cars for play and planting.
One of the most essential tools for all placemakers according to Lisa Taylor and Paul Augarde, is ‘walking around with strangers’. Finding a local guide with a unique perspective, perhaps a shopkeeper, or a person in a wheelchair, will help get to the heart of the place.
Giles Sepmer of Cadogan Estates talked about how locals in Chelsea, one of London’s wealthiest neighbourhoods, have endless places to buy expensive handbags, but nowhere to buy a loaf of bread. Their work on Pavilion Road aimed to bring a sense of village life back to the big city.
Here at The Place Bureau – we’ve been working with OPDC to create a thriving new neighbourhood in West London, with some of the best connections in the capital. We’re helping them to develop a strategy that focuses on ‘working communities’ where people can live and work in their own neighbourhood.
“Placemaking has become a buzzword, but if it doesn’t involve communities it’s not placemaking.”
Salla Ahokas from Helsinki talked about how local governments are embedding placemaking into their practice. Countering the idea that Placemaking is just about gentrification and driving up rents for private developers – it’s about urban development with people at the heart of it. Moa Sundberg from Helsingborg said that to mitigate these potential negative effects of placemaking, they went to neighbourhoods and knocked on doors, sat down with people for a Fika and talked to them about what they actually needed in their local area.
Improving participation in the running of our cities is essential to ensure an equitable future. Nate Storring of PPS says that “People don’t participate because trust has been broken, Placemaking can be a way to bring back that trust”. We need to map out our bureaucratic systems and make them easier to navigate as Daniela Ramirez Cano showed us in her Visor Urbano digital platform that allows citizens to access public information.
Luca Ballardini from Torino Stratosferica talked about taking over a disused tramway and, with the help of friends and his community, turning it into a new park. He talked of the challenges of coming up against criticism – if you do something radical in the public realm, it has to be done well because its on show! He also described the complexities around legal and financial ownership. To make these dreams a reality, we need a public sector willing to shoulder these responsibilities in collaboration with local groups.
At The Place Bureau, we’re spearheading a co-production process in Liverpool – reinterpreting the past and re-imagining the future of Canning Dock with National Museums Liverpool. Bringing together museum curators, architects Asif Khan and creative community partners, we’re working through ways to tell the story of the city’s role in the transatlantic slave trade and maritime industry, in a way that represents the past, present and future of Liverpool’s incredible and diverse community.